Google Sweetens Stock Option Pot

    December 13, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Through the vehicle of transferable stock options, Googlers with vested options will have an opportunity to sell them to financial institutions willing to bid for them.

As good as the food in the Google cafeterias has been reported to be, there’s nothing sweeter than the sound of stacks of cash being riffled next to the ear. But while the executives at Google have exercised options worth billions of dollars thanks to highly favorable strike prices, the rank and file have not enjoyed similar returns on their vested options.

To try and partially compensate for this, Google announced a new employee benefit called Transferable Stock Options (TSOs). The company’s Allan Brown, Director, Recognition & HR Systems, posted about TSOs on Google’s Official blog:

With the TSO program, employees will also be able to sell vested options to the highest-bidding financial institution, which may be willing to pay a premium above the difference between the exercise price and the market price for Google stock (even when the exercise price is higher than the market price). The premium paid is for the time value of the options.

Google further explains that financial institutions will want to do this to “hedge” the position they hold in Google by shorting shares they own against the options purchased through the new marketplace, and profit from this financial legerdemain.

Morgan Stanley will run the TSO marketplace, which Google expects to launch in the second quarter of 2007. Brown also said Google has chatted with the SEC about the new program and will keep it in compliance with securities laws.

The debut of this program seems to address what must be a significant divide between pre-IPO Google staffers and those arriving now. For those Googlers fortunate enough to have options priced in the double-digits (Google debuted at $85 per share in 2004), the growth of Google shares minted a lot of new millionaires.

But recent hires must be dismayed at seeing Google’s executive management group exercising options with strike prices as low as $0 (zero) and selling them for ask prices in the $400 range. Those executives are not eligible for the TSO program, and don’t need it anyway.

Perhaps this could be construed as a reflection of those insider’s opinions of Google’s stock. Having been so strong over its two-year run, maybe there is some thought that shares of GOOG may be close to hitting a ceiling.

It could also indicate that maybe the best and brightest Google likes to say comprise its incoming talent have been choosing startups instead of the Googleplex as an employment destination. YouTube’s $1.65 billion deal with Google, along with other startup purchases throughout the industry, may inspire new graduates to go that route and earn a massive payday.

The TSO program may be a nice idea to help squeeze a little more juice out of Google’s stock options, but they can’t compare to a startup payday where a small group of people share Powerball-like windfalls on acquisition.


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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.